By Wendy Blackshaw, a woman in recovery
A couple of months ago I read an email that made me weepy. It was from a Minneapolis yoga instructor who saw one of our Emily Program billboards that says “Ever Beaten Yourself Up with a Donut”? She was writing to thank us because it captured where she had once been – struggling with an eating disorder – but it also captured where she is now – healthy, whole, and in a recovery where donuts are eaten. I love these stories. Because it is my story.
My eating disorder started when I was a teenager. Growing up in an alcoholic home, anxiety, and fear was a constant. When I went away to college, I couldn’t cope. My inability to adhere to my self-imposed perfectionistic standards lead to perceived failure, which lead to extreme bouts of self-loathing. My coping mechanism became trying to control everything in my life. Impossible. But the one area I could control was my weight and eating. I fell into a dangerous cycle of eating/restrict, eating/restrict that quickly overcame me. I tried therapy, medication, 12-step groups – many of these things helped. And many did not. I had periods of quasi-peace where I felt “recovered” followed by difficult times where I really believed that I would always deal with an eating disorder on some level for the rest of my life and I better learn to accept it.
As it turned out, true acceptance is what enabled me to fully recover. However, not acceptance of a lifelong battle with an eating disorder but true acceptance of myself and my truths.
Truth #1: I had to accept that food is just food – neither good nor bad. I had to let go of the idea that if I ate certain foods, I had “slipped”. While the abstinence model works for many, for me it’s an open invitation to embark on some good ol’ self-flagellation – something I no longer give myself the option of partaking in.
Truth #2: It was my responsibility to change the conversation. No “fat” or “diet” talk in my sphere. In my home, we never talk about weight or dieting. My litmus test is, would I want my daughter to hear me, and if the answer is “no”, I don’t go there.
Truth #3: And the most important …I had to accept and love – and forgive – that 17-year-old girl who found a way to cope with her eating disorder. She is safe now. And I nurture and treasure her and the journey we have been on together. Today my life is beautifully imperfect, colorful, and rich – and includes donuts – because we are finally free.
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